Post Covid 19 Vietnam: interview with H.E. Giorgio Aliberti EU Ambassador in Vietnam

This article was originally published in Italian in Panorama on 23rd August 2023.

Please note that this is a courtesy translation of the Italian language article originally published in the Panorama Magazine Issue at:

In our previous articles we have conducted interviews with many entrepreneurs. This time instead we want to widen the spaces and also involve fundamental components of the Italian and European institutions abroad, which play an essential role in the countries where we operate and are crucial for the success of the Italian system in the world. We begin this interview with Giorgio Aliberti, Ambassador of the European Union in Vietnam, who, after 4 years of service during the difficult period of Covid-19, has just concluded his assignment. In this interview we report the salient moments and the important contribution of the work carried out during his mandate.

H.E. Giorgio Aliberti, a native of Italy, assumed the role of European Union Ambassador to Vietnam in September 2019. Prior to this, he held the position of Deputy Principal Director for Asia and Oceania at the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

From June 2015 to June 2018, he served as the Italian Ambassador to Myanmar, specializing in European and Asian affairs. Ambassador Aliberti completed his undergraduate studies in Economics at Bocconi University in Milan, pursued further education at the Ecole Nationale d'Administration in France, and obtained an MSc in Applied Environmental Economics from Wye College, University of London, UK.

He has presented lectures at various universities and international research centers across Europe, and has been a featured speaker on EU and Asian topics at numerous events.

Ambassador Aliberti has also authored articles focused on EU and Western Balkan affairs. In addition to his native Italian, he is fluent in English, French, and Spanish.

Q. Can you give us a brief introduction about yourself, including your educational background, professional career, and the journey that brought you to diplomatic service?

After graduating in Political Economy from Bocconi, I followed a preparatory course at ISPI in Milan for the Diplomatic examination and began my career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1993. I have always had a special interest in international affairs and have always wanted travel the world, the diplomatic career proved to be a very good choice. Over the last 30 years I have lived on 4 continents in 8 different countries, dealing with subjects as varied as economic, political, environmental, European affairs and more.

Q. During your time posted in Vietnam, are there any specific impressions of the country that you can share with our readers that you believe they should be aware of?

Vietnam has been undergoing an extraordinary transformation since the government adopted the policy of renewal (đổi mới) in 1986, which liberalized the economy. The dynamism and energy that characterize the larger cities in particular is truly unique. The Vietnamese people are hard workers, pragmatists, ready to find solutions to any problem. The tragic historical events of the last century has undoubtedly forged the country’s character, further strengthening its extraordinary resilience.

Q. How do you believe the relationship between Vietnam and Europe has evolved in recent years?

Relations between the European Union and Vietnam have strengthened significantly in recent years also thanks to a series of bilateral agreements concluded including the EVFTA, the Free Trade Agreement, essential for further increasing trade relations and, in the future, investment .

Q. Can you share any success stories that you’ve encountered during your tenure in Vietnam?

The main achievements during my tenure were the finalization and entry into force of the Free Trade Agreement in August 2020 and the agreement for the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), through which the EU, together with G7 countries, Denmark and Norway will support Vietnam in the energy transition process. The political declaration agreed in December 2022 kicked off a collaboration that will last for years, in which the European Union has the role of co-leader (the only such case in the world).

Q. In what areas do you believe there is potential for improvement in the Vietnamese market?

Despite the undoubtable improvements in the regulatory framework following Vietnam's accession to the WTO in 2007, much remains to be done. Over the last few years we have insisted a lot on the need to guarantee greater transparency and certainty of the rules to encourage foreign investments, especially from Europe.

Q. What suggestions would you give to companies who are arriving in Vietnam or considering the country as a potential investment destination?

I believe that Vietnam certainly deserves serious consideration as a potential beneficiary of European investments for a series of considerable advantages, starting from the geographical location, very close to China, the stability of the political system, the still affordable costs and the relative quality of the workforce, as well as the large number of free trade agreements that Hanoi has concluded with major trading partners. Vietnam is increasingly becoming a manufacturing center for the entire region and has undoubtedly benefited from the Sino-US trade war and the so-called "China+1" policy whereby many foreign companies have decided to diversify their investments by choosing the country as a center alternative production to China. The suggestion I would give is above all to deepen your knowledge of the different local realities, which are very different from each other. I would then recommend evaluating the choice of reliable local partners and negotiating the conditions necessary for the success of the investment with the government.

Q. Finally, in your opinion, is Vietnam at this point in time, the right place to do business?

I think it is difficult to generalize. An adequate cost-benefit analysis is needed, which varies according to the investment sectors. Certainly, Vietnamese economic fundamentals are good and general conditions are favorable for foreign investment. However, we must not forget that the investment environment is still far from that the more advanced countries of the region and that there is no shortage of problems. Difficulties in communicating with local interlocutors are very frequent and widespread corruption is still prevalent today. The most promising sectors in my opinion are those related to the energy transition and renewable energies, which represent a priority for the government. In any case, I would recommend carrying out an in-depth preliminary analysis which also involves the national and European chambers of commerce (Eurocham), which will be able to provide very useful advice.